Something is happening quickly in the camera market. It's either good or evil depending on your point of view. Or your career trajectory. But it is happening nonetheless. Still cameras are tranforming (like Optimus Prime) from dedicated still photography devices into nearly full-fledged video recording devices. And the trend seems to be accelerating and punishing the laggards in the field while rewarding video-centric early adopters.
It's easy to say that it all started with the Nikon D90 or the Canon 5D mk2 but the reality is that smaller bridge cameras incorporated video modes long before those modes made the jump up to interchangeable lens, large sensor, still cameras. Doesn't matter when it started though, the trend is here and it's moving quicker and quicker; and may determine whether your favorite camera model comes to market and succeeds, across international lines.
This is very evident in the progression of Olympus and Panasonic cameras. The GH5, which will hit the market in a couple of weeks, is much more of a video production camera than a still camera (although the two camps are in no way mutually exclusive). It offers more flexible menu options and capture file types for video than many dedicated video cameras at multiples of its price. It will soon be one of the very few consumer cameras tooffer 10 bit 4:2:2, 4K video on the market today. Consider that dedicated cameras like the Sony z150 are only offering 8 bit 4:2:0 capture at 50% more cost; and they are unable to come close to the still imaging quality of the GH5.
Is the confluence of great video capabilities and great photo performance a fluke, or a happy coincidence? I don't think so. I believe that big camera companies looked to the world market, analyzed the trends, and decided that the majority of users demanded that their cameras be ambidextrous and they proceeded from the idea that world markets will define financial success or failure based on the features most in demand.
One only has to look at the advertising markets to be able to read the writing on the walls. Just a few years ago print advertising and broadcast television ad placements represented the majority of ad dollar investments. Now the tables have shifted and fully 70+ % of the market is driven by web video and broadcast media. If it's on a screen it's going to be more and more likely to be in motion and not standing still.
With less than 30% of ad dollars going to print placement the supremacy of print advertising (and investments in the one-niche tools to make print advertising) the balance has shifted. Advanced smart phones with great camera+software packages are making the capture of still images ever easier while the need to master storyline, shooting, movement, audio and editing have preserved a certain barrier to the lazy when it comes to creating watchable video. This means that good video producers are ever more in demand and the cameras they need to use are morphing quickly.
So Olympus, Sony and Panasonic respond by shifting their products in the direction of offering features in demand by huge swaths of an international market of younger users who were raised with online video, and video programming in general. The bar to jump over for entry includes not just 4K video but actually, very good 4K video. Gone are the days when makers could be half assed about their offerings by leaving off necessities for video production, like headphone jacks or the ability to change apertures on the fly, while shooting.
They also realize that video users are demanding very good image stabilization in order to use their products as handheld devices. The new consumers follow the visual and aesthetic styles that are prevalent and widespread today. Three Jason Bourne movies later everything seems to be handheld in the video world with the exception of "old school" television commercials that are clearly aimed at your mother or your grandmother (Sorry Spike but television commercial demographics have skewed toward females, statistically, for decades --- women in our culture still make a majority of buying decisions. Hence, they are the target for the majority of ads. And that's a fact, not a sexist opinion). Responding edit to a comment below....
The race is on right now amongst the big three, mirror-free, interchangeable lens camera makers to increase the performance of continuous auto focus in their systems which will benefit traditional photographers and solidify gains in market share in the video world. Once you can lock on to a moving face with utmost reliability you gain some real advantages for One Man Movie Making.
The next generation of Sony and Panasonic sensors, with phase detect autofocus points on-chip, will add to the value of these cameras as cost effective, high quality, 4K video production tools---across the professional production spectrum.
It seems that the transformation of still cameras into all terrain cameras isn't creating any compromises for either camp, rather the evolution is benefitting both traditional still camera users and dedicated videographers equally.
Still shooters have more powerful tools with which to grab focus quicker and more reliably, without having to venture into the last century morass of the DSLR. Videographers get the codecs they want, the profiles they want, and the image stabilization they want at a much lower cost than previous generations of "professional" "dedicated" video cameras. They gain enormous economies and lose out on things that have easy workarounds; such as the XLR connections for audio and internal neutral density filters.
The first serious crossover cameras that I think were effective ENG (electronic news gathering)/documentary video cameras were the Sony RX10 and the copy-cat Panasonic fz1000. Both are amazingly fluid as video cameras. Both have menu items customized for video production. And the latest models have gone even further into the video camp. Without abandoning high quality still image creation.
To be honest, I did not buy the Panasonic FZ2500 to use as a still camera (although I will surely press it into service for photographs...). No, I bought it because I've watched my clients (and my friends and competitor's clients) shift from wanting still images to needing video images. My most recent eight projects have illuminated the need for various and different cameras to offer the services that I want to offer (and which have good profit potential).
While a Sony A7rii, shooting full frame 4K, along with a fast 85mm f1.4 lens, has a great look and works well for static interview situations, a lot of video projects depend on movement, transitioning from interior to exterior, and the demands of being able to move quickly and efficiently between shooting situations. The Panasonic is set up (to my mind) as mostly a video camera aimed at single person crews that need to be light on their feet and still deliver a quality video product. From shooting an interview to documenting a stage show from a distance.
The fz2500 checks good boxes. I bought one for run-and-gun, 1080p video projects. It has a solid, and high throughput 1080p codec, good image stabilization, more control over zooming and par focal emulation than my Sony RX10 cameras have, and the built-in neutral density filters are certainly convenient. Then there are basic production tools like a slate with audio tones and color bars, and a synchro scan feature that allows you to fine tune shutter angle to prevent seeing scan lines on monitors when filming. It's also helpful in subduing the effects of fluorescent light issues on locations.
In every product line refresh I'm seeing more and more nods to video production capabilities. And it's not just in the mainstream mirror-free segment of the market. It's no coincidence that Canon's D80 features dual pixel focusing (current state of the art) which works amazingly well during video capture. It's no coincidence that excellent video capabilities are built in to both the Fuji and the Hasselblad mirrorless, medium format offerings. Or that a big selling point of Leica's SL camera is the 4K video capability, along with other attendant video features.
As signal processors and CPUs follow Moore's law the video capabilities are increasingly intertwined with still camera image processing innovations. One augments the other. The faster processing that allows high bit depth, 4K imaging also allows much finer and more detailed still imaging processing.
While hobbyists may decry the idea of video cameras sharing the same bodies as their still cameras, the path to the future seems pretty clear. It's not a question of whether or not video adds costs to still cameras but whether still cameras' imaging quality would have progressed nearly as quickly had not camera manufacturers been racing to solve image processing requirements for ever more complex video implementations.
The world is changing. The world has changed. The readership for magazines has declined precipitously. The readership for physical newspapers is aging out toward unsustainability. The Washington Post, the New York Times and every other new outlet depends more and more on video programming, as does Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. There's been a seismic shift in the way culture gets its culture. In five short years the use numbers have flipped from print dominance to moving images. The cameras makers have to provide the ability to produce these visual motion assets if they are to survive (and the jury is still out on their ultimate survival, given that Apple and Samsung have not slowed down their R&D on in-phone video capabilities for a second) and have a sustainable future.
Rather than curse the evolution of visual culture I think it pays to be brave and embrace it. There is a wonderful sense of freedom and achievement that comes from new mastery. And there's a rich ecosystem waiting to help you and me make the transition. Your camera awaits. You may be the next Tarantino or J,J. Abrams. It's an interesting direction; the transition between still images to video, but it seems to be one of the few avenues left open to traditional camera makers. The smart ones are becoming multi-media tool makers as fast as they can.
Hot lights and a mechanical camera on a copy stand. How last century....
And are those polarizing filter gels in front of those lights? How quaint....
Edit: I changed only the size of a few words for the benefit of reading impaired critics. 👮
Edit: I changed only the size of a few words for the benefit of reading impaired critics. 👮